I Went Undercover To Expose The Internet’s White Supremacists – & Outed A Violent Nazi

Talia Lavin is every white supremacist's nightmare: an unapologetically loud, smart Jewish woman with an investigative drive to expose the tactics and ideologies of online trolls.
After years of being subjected to online abuse from the far right, Talia decided to go undercover and, using a fake persona, explore the internet's darkest depths. Her research is the subject of her new book, Culture Warlords: My Journey Into The Dark Web of White Supremacy, in which she writes: "To be publicly Jewish and female, and engaged in antifascist rhetoric — even in the form of caustic tweets — rendered me a vivid character in the imagination of extremists."
Diving into the online culture of hate, Talia learns the intricacies of how white supremacy proliferates and cannot exist without antisemitism. She lifts the lid on the internet's rotten core – the spaces where white supremacists, incels, white nationalists, Christian extremists and the Proud Boys thrive and multiply. She investigates their movements and ideologies, formulates an identity vivid enough to thrill — and then she infiltrates.
In the following extract, Talia poses as a Nazi femme fatale, coaxing information out of a 22-year-old Ukrainian Nazi whose heroes are Hitler and the Christchurch mosque shooter, Brenton Tarrant. Through this painstaking work, Talia turns the lens of antisemitism, racism and white power back on itself in an attempt to dismantle the online hate movement from within.
It’s nearly 3am in Ukraine, but my interlocutor hasn’t gone to sleep yet. His name is David, he lives in Kyiv, and he’s sending me videos about how to make a gun out of pipes. He’s trying to flirt with me. He’s Ukrainian, but he wants an American wife. He wants to make a whites-only United States, and he believes I may be his ticket to do that. I’m back in character as Ashlynn, only this time I’ve infiltrated the Vorherrschaft Division (Supremacy Division), a chat group composed of Americans and Europeans fixated on disseminating images of terror and discussing the need for a race war now.
I’m using the screen name “AryanQueen” to say hello to the most violent racists online. Vorherrschaft is one of several knockoffs of the widely feared white-supremacist terror group Atomwaffen Division that have sprung up in recent months. Atomwaffen means “atomic weapons” in German. The knockoff groups have Germanic names, organise primarily on Telegram, and traffic in the language of terror. (Another example is the Rapekrieg Division.)
I’ve decided to use a female identity in hopes of coaxing more information out of participants, and David is ready to oblige. His screen name is “Der Stürmer," named after the favourite tabloid of the Nazi Party, and he admires Hitler openly—though his truest hero is Christchurch mosque mass shooter Brenton Tarrant. Like Tarrant himself, David has a preoccupation with all things American. He’d like to visit me in Iowa, and to establish his bona fides, he tells me he was once part of a group called “Cherniy Korpus”—Black Corps—a guerrilla military group that served as a forerunner to the Ukrainian far-right militia now known as the Azov Battalion. He tells me that he left in order to spread national socialist ideas throughout Ukraine, that he’s working an office job to afford ammo. He wants a white wife with traditional ideals. He shows me some photos of his militia garb and the gun he used on the front lines in the grinding Ukraine Russia war in Donbass. I quickly find out that he is one of the administrators of a Ukrainian-language channel I’ve been monitoring for just under a year. Explicitly designed to evoke stochastic terror, it’s called “Brenton Tarrant’s Lads.”

He calls me 'My Ash.' He tells me he loves me.

He shows me photos of a Ukrainian translation he’s made of Tarrant’s manifesto, “The Great Replacement,” and tells me he’s printed and distributed hundreds of copies. The open-source intelligence website Bellingcat, which closely tracks the far right in Eastern Europe, had published a few months before an investigation of the translated booklet, documenting numerous selfies of men in Ukraine and Russia holding copies of the pamphlet—some reading it by the sea; a group of men holding it up while giving Hitler salutes; and an extremist antigay group that attacked marchers in Kyiv’s Pride Parade in 2019 encouraging its members to buy copies. The fish that had landed in my net unwittingly was surprisingly big: He was single-handedly aiding in the radicalisation of potentially thousands of men, disseminating a document that had already inspired copycat terror attacks. And he was proud of it.
Every day while the “Brenton Tarrant’s Lads” channel glorified terror against Jews, Black people, and Muslims, its owner was trying to seduce me. David—he assures me he’s “not a kike,” despite the name—wants to visit me the next time he comes to the United States. I tell him Ashlynn has learned Russian because she wanted to go to Donbass to meet guys—the most hard-core guys around, the American white supremacists who go to Ukraine to fight. We start speaking in Russian and sometimes Ukrainian. (Unbelievably, he falls for this.) I record voice messages in Russian, with my voice pitched to a sexy-baby timbre and a heavy American accent. He calls me “My Ash.” He tells me he loves me.
It’s a heady, precipitous flirtation with fear—what happens if he finds out it’s me somehow, under the fake pictures, the fake phone number, the fake name? It’s also a chance to find out more about the ways in which white supremacy has spread its tentacles around the world. I tell him I’m a waitress. He asks if I serve “n—s” at my job. I say Iowa is mostly white (true). I send him a photograph of “my” face—the same woman I used to create the Ashlynn persona. (Once again I make sure the images are cropped, screenshotted, and impossible to trace back via image search on Google or Yandex.) I send another photo, and he sends me a clip from the front lines in Donbass, of someone he says is “one of his lads” shooting an automatic rifle between rows of sandbags. Above the man’s head, a swastika flag is proudly waving. I can tell he wants to impress me.

I tell him not to trust anyone, but I want him to trust me, this terrorist. I want to thwart him, and I feel no remorse. I have a few ideas about how to do it, too.

He says he’s only twenty-two.
My blood is cold, cold, cold as I coax out more and more details— what his parents do, where he lives. Ashlynn is fleshed out enough at this point that I can continue to supply analogues of my own. I’ve memorised the dates of Iowa’s hunting season, I can conjure up sorrow when I talk about Ashlynn’s dead mother, admiration for her Aryan Nations father. I tell him not to trust anyone, but I want him to trust me, this terrorist. I want to thwart him, and I feel no remorse. I have a few ideas about how to do it, too.
In the end, the operation takes five months. There are moments that veer precipitously into the comical. In order to get him to reveal his face, I ask him to “prove he’s not a Jew,” and he offers to send me a photo of his foreskin. I decline and ask to see his nose instead. Here’s a snippet of conversation from just after he’s revealed his face to me, in a picture in which his mouth is obscured by his phone. I’m fishing for a complete face photo, so I can send it on to antifascists and journalists.
It’s a fucked-up act. But it works. He spontaneously sends me a picture of his car, its license plate plainly visible. I discover that you can get an awful lot of information by Googling someone’s license plate. He tells me his real first and last names—David Kolomiiets. I say I’m “Ashleigh Grant.”
“Like the M1 Garand,” he responds, referring to a World War II vintage semiautomatic rifle.
I make a fake Twitter account for Ashlynn, so I can get his Twitter handle by asking him to follow me. I tweet halfheartedly about kikes and such—bare bones, but enough to be believable. I get him to prove to me through screenshots that he’s actually one of the moderators of the Brenton Tarrant’s Lads channel—perhaps the largest Ukrainian language extremist channel, and awash in stochastic terror. He sends me a video he’s enjoying watching. It’s of 911 calls with callers who disappeared before they could complete the call. Their voices, thick with distress, are amusing to him. I tell him I think that’s hot.
What concerns me the most about David, far away on the other side of the world, is that he keeps sending me videos and images of guns. He says he has an M4. Hе sends me a screenshot of his Counter-Strike game: He’s named his AK-47 in the game “DIE MUSLIMS!!!” He says he was inspired to join the white-nationalist movement by Brenton Tarrant. He says he wants to kiss me someday.

What concerns me the most about David, far away on the other side of the world, is that he keeps sending me videos and images of guns. He says he has an M4.

And that he wants to buy an AR-15 when he comes to America. I send him heart-eyed emojis and bide my time.
Eventually, after shopping the story to a few different journalists, I start up a conversation with Michael Colborne, who had authored the investigative piece at Bellingcat about the Ukrainian translation of Tarrant’s manifesto, a project David had spearheaded. I tell Colborne I’ve got all the information on one of the Tarrant channel’s co-runners: his name, his face, his license plate, his email, the city he lives in. “Jesus Christ are you serious? How...” Colborne messages me on Signal.
“It’s complicated, but the short answer is antifascist catfishing,” I reply.
After two journalists who cover Eastern Europe have completely ignored the story, I’m struck by the avidity of Michael Colborne’s response. That’s when Colborne tells me that David has created, and disseminated, a violent video death threat against him and his coworkers.
Colborne sends it to me. It’s an extraordinarily disturbing video. It opens in the woods, with links to the Brenton Tarrant’s Lads channel displayed on-screen. The music is jaunty. It’s formatted like a meme. We cut from the woods to a video clip called “Who’s That Pokémon?”—a frequently used segment in the Pokémon anime series to introduce new cute fuzzy monsters. Only instead of a Pokémon, the video then displays Colborne’s face—“It’s Michael Colborne, beaten Bellingcat faggot,” a computerised voice says. Then the video cuts back to the woods, where a paper target of Colborne’s face has been glued to a bottle. An unseen hand fires a gun and the bottle explodes, Colborne’s face blown to pieces. The process is repeated
with more journalists, mainly Colborne’s colleagues at Bellingcat.
David has sent it to multiple extremist channels, accompanied by the message, “This video is a kind of instructive response on how to deal with our enemies.” It’s not subtle. It’s an invitation to murder.

'Hi,' he replies. 'i'm an antifascist and you're about to be exposed,' I tell him, filled with a mixture of loathing and fear and glee.

A few weeks after we first touch base, Colborne tells me he’s going to publish the piece soon, and I should probably extract myself from the conversation with David. We ’d been talking more sporadically; knowing the jig was about to be up, I was less invested, though he was still telling me he loved me regularly. I send him a message. “hi David,” I write on March 18, 2020, just after midnight. “i have to tell you something.”
“Hi,” he replies. “i’m an antifascist and you’re about to be exposed,” I tell him, filled with a mixture of loathing and fear and glee.
“Makes no sense,” he replies. “For what we texted from Nov then?” “So I could get as much information from you as possible you genocidal asshole,” I say. “I’m scared,” he says. “good,” I say, and block him. So the story comes out. The next morning, Colborne publishes the piece, titled “Revealed: The Ukranian Man Who Runs a Neo-Nazi Telegram Channel.”
Colborne wrote, “For all the chatter on neo-Nazi Telegram channels about the need to preserve anonymity and security from all manner of ‘feds’ and ‘journalists/spies,’ [David Kolomiiets] was willing to throw caution to the wind because—well, to put it plainly, because he seemed to think he might get laid.”

I had made their worst nightmares come true: Behind the beautiful Aryan they desired was a fat, cunning Jew, biding her time.

Bellingcat took what I gave them and offered more: David’s Facebook page. His page on Vkontakte, the biggest social-media site on the Russian-speaking internet. After the story dropped, David balked. He dropped out of public view entirely—but not before pretending to be his own mother on Twitter and email, begging Bellingcat to unpublish the story, and offering monetary bribes to the journalists to take his name out of circulation. He also deleted all his social-media pages. He seemed genuinely afraid, and embarrassed—and his peers reacted with contempt toward him. Brenton Tarrant’s Lads announced his expulsion from the chat room and sent out an increasingly unhinged series of warnings about information security, the need to avoid “e-girls,” and the need to not be stupid.
I had outed a violent Nazi—perhaps one with the potential to become a mass shooter—and sown dissension and fear in the ranks of extremists. How could they rebuild the white race, and preserve a future for the white children they claimed to want, if any woman could be a trap? The less they trusted each other, the less cohesive their movement would be. The less cohesive their movement was, the less damage they could wreak. And, what’s more, although they didn’t know it yet, I had made their worst nightmares come true: Behind the beautiful Aryan they desired was a fat, cunning Jew, biding her time. The man who had so confidently told me that kikes need to be destroyed was cowering, pretending to be his own mother, and had been completely disowned by his peers. It was sweet. And a bit perverse. And it felt completely worth it. It was even sweeter when, a few months later, I got word that Ukrainian security services had arrested a Russian citizen and neo-Nazi who served as an administrator in the Tarrant’s Lads channel. It wasn’t David. His name was Aleksander Skachkov, and he had SS tattoos on his arm. I wondered if David had played a role in his apprehension, known, as he was, to all and sundry.
Before I shut down my “AryanQueen” account, it started getting flooded with death threats. “Just tell me your name,” one man says to me in Russian. “Your house. Your address. I’ll show up. I have a gun.”
Culture Warlords by Talia Lavin is available to purchase here.

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